1759 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Wilkie

David Hume, in The Critical Review (April 1759); Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 3:595.



The execution of the Epigoniad is better than the design, the poetry superior to the fable, and the colouring of the particular parts more excellent than the general plan of the whole. Of all the great epic poems which have been the admiration of mankind, the Jerusalem of Tasso alone would make a tolerable novel, if reduced to prose, and related without that splendour of versification and imagery by which it is supported; yet, in the opinion of many able judges, the Jerusalem is the least perfect of all these productions; chiefly because it has least nature and simplicity in the sentiments, and is most liable to the objection of affectation and conceit. The story of a poem, whatever may be imagined, is the least essential part of it: the force of versification, the vivacity of the images, the justness of the descriptions, the natural play of the passions, are the chief circumstances which distinguish the great poet from the prosaic novelist, and give him so high a rank among the heroes in literature: and I will venture to affirm, that all this advantages are to be found in an eminent degree in the Epigoniad.